Recovered Memory is a term used in psychology to describe the situation where a person recalls a memory that they had previously forgotten, normally in a talking therapy session.
However, a central questions is whether or not recovered memories are reliable, or whether they are therapy-induced. Many suggest such recovered memories didn’t happen, or the situation spoken of does not reflect what truly happened.
There are a number of reasons why recovered memories may exist, although the topic has proven highly controversial. In fact, the topic of recovered memory is generally considered to be one of the most contentious topics in psychology and mental health.
Research into recovered memory can be dated back to Sigmund Freud. Interest into the phenomenon has intensified within the last few decades, with many high-profile legal cases revolving around recovered memory making headlines.
Many studies have been carried out, albeit with many different results, leaving overall opinion on false memories mixed.
If recovered memory is a possibility, there appear to be certain triggers for this to happen. Suggestibility appears to be key – e.g. when a therapist infers from someone’s symptoms that past abuse may have happened, the person may become more inclined to believe this.
Hypnotherapy has proven to be another controversial area – with accusations that hypnosis can lead to memories that prove to be false being implanted.
Repeatedly asking the same questions, guided imagery and even use of word association have been labelled as other techniques that could potentially cause false memories to develop.
But the overriding problem throughout any such recovered memory case, is that there is no way of telling for sure what is truthful and what isn’t.
Key stances on recovered memory
Some of the most esteemed psychologists, as well as psychological organisations, have weighed in on the recovered memory debate.
In general, those that doubt the authenticity of recovered memory dismiss such memories as “false memory”. However, those that believe in their truthfulness would happily refer to them as recovered memories.
The American Psychological Association, along with other psychiatric organisations, have largely discredited any therapy that involves trying to recall “hidden memories”.
Therapists engaging in such therapies may be stripped of their accreditation if found to have held such therapies. But many believe therapies to recover memories are trustworthy.
Elizabeth Loftus – the esteemed psychologist – produced numerous studies that seemingly demonstrated the ease of which a false memory can be induced. While her studies haven’t been without criticism, they have frequently been referred to by many when pointing to the likelihood of false memory.
Support for recovered memory
Many survivor’s rights groups have criticised the notion of false memories – suggesting that it turns survivors into victims. Instead, they back the existence of recovered memory.
It is therefore feasible that many years later, the memory may be recovered. This would suggest a memory that may be classed as ‘false’, really did happen, just that it was buried in the unconscious mind for some time.
This is particularly relevant in the case of children, as their mind would be more capable of forgetting a traumatic memory, than an adult’s mind would.
Relationship with mental health
Recovered memory may commonly be seen as a potential symptom of a form of Dissociative Disorder, or Delusional Disorder. Whether or not cases of false memory constitutes its own diagnosis has been questioned.
In fact, “False Memory Syndrome” is a name given to the state of mind where a person’s false memory leads to problems – having been coined by those against recovered memory. However, it has never been formally ratified as a psychiatric condition.
The controversy surrounding False Memory Syndrome can also be linked to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) – an organisation set up to help people whose children had accused them of abuse due to supposedly recovered memories.
It has generated significant controversy, and theorists are split on whether or not traumatic memories can be recovered after many years.
Famous recovered memory cases
Some famous cases exist involving recovered memory. These cases have often ended up in high-profile court cases, covered in the media, and have been the subject of substantial research.
The aforementioned FMSF was set up by Peter and Pamela Freyd, they had been accused of abuse by their daughter, Jennifer Freyd. The story of the Freyd family is widely-discussed in psychology.
Other famous cases include that of Gary Ramona, the renowned George Franklin case, and the satanic ritual abuse hysteria, among others.
The topic of uncovered memory is contentious. Recovered memory – is it possible? And if so, can it truly be recovered? How reliable are these alleged memories?
These are questions that have, and surely will always, prompt heated debate. See the link below for out recovered memory blog.
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